Saturday, November 15, 1997
Dionne name carries weight, burden

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gilbert Dionne
Gilbert Dionne was out the door before he could be stopped. In his hands were a hockey stick that had once belonged to Bobby Hull. He wanted to see if it might help his shot.

He didn't know it was a treasure. He thought of it as a tool.

''Get back with that stick,'' Laurette Dionne shouted as her son scurried toward the ice rink. ''You don't realize what that is.''

The Dionnes of Drummondville, Quebec had eight children. The oldest, Marcel, became a hockey star. The youngest, Gilbert, aspired to follow in his brother's blade marks. Laurette Dionne tried to protect the artifacts Marcel brought home from the National Hockey League, but young Gilbert was always eager for new equipment.

''I can't do,'' he says, ''without hockey.''

Marcel Dionne's kid brother is all grown up now. He is 27 years old, a father of two, and the leading goal scorer of the Cincinnati Cyclones. If he is not the player his brother was - a Hall of Famer, an icon - Gilbert Dionne is happy enough to be making his living in a game he loves.

Growing up, he was the kid who held his own with the older boys, and who hung around the rink at midnight when the maintenance man added water for the following day.

He had a hard act to follow, but it did not appear to burden him. Sometimes he'd hear other player's parents complain that he was getting too much ice time on account of his name, but his mother would point out that it was not Marcel who was putting the puck in the net. ''It was tough at one point,'' Gilbert Dionne said, about his brother. ''Marcel is so much older than I am, it's more of a father-son relationship. I think I missed out on a lot on things.''

Gilbert worshipped Marcel

Because the two brothers were born 19 years apart, their relationship has generally entailed more hero worship than rivalry. When Marcel traveled to Montreal with the Detroit Red Wings or the Los Angeles Kings or the New York Rangers, Gilbert would arrive at the Forum wearing one of his brother's jerseys, and scrounge for sticks in the dressing room.

''I was really proud,'' he said. ''I found it hard when the Montreal papers would say things about him, but he would call us and say not to worry.''

Worry was wasted on Marcel Dionne. He scored 731 goals in the NHL, and the only men with more are named Gretzky and Howe. He was twice named the league's outstanding player, and twice earned the Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanship.

Gilbert Dionne has not been so lavishly decorated during his hockey career, but he does own one distinction his big brother missed. His name is engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Gilbert has played parts of six seasons in the NHL, most notably as a member of the Jacques Demers-coached Montreal Canadiens during their championship season of 1992-93.

He plays left wing, and he has played it well enough to score 21 goals in half of an NHL season. He is deadly around the net, where instinct and skill are most important. But in the open ice, Gilbert Dionne is sometimes a stride slow.

Speed separates players

Speed is the most essential ingredient in most sports. In hockey, it separates the big leagues from the bushes. It's not just that the NHL skaters cover more ice more quickly, but that their passes are precise enough to exploit an extra step.

''When you play in the NHL,'' says Gilbert, ''it's the best of the best.''

He would like to be part of that again. The NHL is expanding rapidly, and there is always room for a guy who can put the biscuit in the basket. If Gilbert Dionne can score enough goals, he may get another shot. ''I was always a scorer,'' he said. ''There's nothing like the feeling you get from scoring a goal. As a kid, I never wanted to play defense.''

Once, in a Junior B level playoff game, Dionne participated in all 10 of his team's goals, scoring seven times and adding three assists.

''My brother told me, 'If you don't shoot at the net, you'll never score,' '' Gilbert Dionne said. ''I take his advice on everything.''